Chapter XX
 

"Now," said Roldan, as Rafael and Hill trudged into the perspective of the canon, "we must sleep, but by turns. That priest will surely go to the cave to-day, and when he finds us gone he'll come straight for the mountains; and not through the tunnel either; he'll come on that big brown horse of his. You sleep first, for two hours, and I'll watch--"

"You first, my friend--" Suppressing a mighty yawn.

"It is easier for me to keep awake. Lie down on that horrible bed. I do not so much mind waiting a little longer."

Adan lifted his nose at the bunk covered with a bearskin, then flung himself upon it, and was asleep in three minutes. Roldan sat with his eyes applied to a rift between the hide-door and the wall. It commanded a view of the opposite wall of the canon, over which wound a zig-zag horse trail.

The sun, which had hung directly above the canon when Hill and Rafael departed, had slid toward the west, leaving the canon cold and dark again, and Roldan was about to call Adan, when he sprang to his feet, and stood rigid, cold with fear.

On the brow of the wall opposite, three hundred feet above his head, stood a powerful brown horse. On him was a huge figure clad in a brown cassock, the hood drawn well over the face. It was impossible to distinguish features at that distance, but Roldan fancied that those terrible eyes were holding his own. He recovered himself and dragged Adan out of bed.

"The priest!" he said. "Help me to wash these dishes--quick. It will take him some time to get down."

Adan stumbled across the room, plunged the dishes into a pail of drinking water, then handed them to Roldan, who dried them hastily and piled them on the shelf. Then he flung the water across the clay floor of the hut.

"Get up the ladder," he commanded. Adan scrambled up. Roldan followed, and pulled the ladder after him. The garret was very low, and half full of skins. They could not stand upright. It was also bitterly cold. Each hastily wrapped a skin about his body, and lay full length, Roldan on his face, his eyes applied to a chink in the rough floor.

A few moments later the door was flung aside and the priest strode in.

Roldan shuddered, but not with personal fear. The priest looked like a man who had just left the rack of his native Spain. His hair--the hood had fallen back--stood on end, his face and tightened lips were livid, his eyes rolled wildly.

"Jim!" he said hoarsely. "Jim!"

He left the hut as abruptly as he had entered it.

"He has gone to look at the mouth of the tunnel," whispered Roldan. "What fools we were not to cover it up again. Then he would have walked its length to find us, and the horses might have come before he returned. Well, he cannot get us until he pulls the roof down."

"He could do it," whispered Adan, grimly. "Those hands! Dios de mi alma!"

"He will think we have gone somewhere with Don Jim."

The priest returned in less than half an hour. His face, if anything, was still more terrible to look upon. There was a touch of foam on his lips. His great hands were clinched. He strode over to the bunk and lifted the heaped-up bearskin. Suddenly he pressed his face into the fur.

"Perfume--Dona Martina's," he exclaimed. "They have been here."

He raised his face to the ceiling, and the boys held their mouths open that their teeth might not clack together. They closed their eyes: instinct bade them give heed to visual magnetism. Roldan immediately wanted to cough, Adan to scratch his nose. The next few moments were the most agonised of their lives. They felt the priest lift his hands and pass them slowly along the ceiling, they felt those eyes searching every crevice. Then they felt him grip the edge of the aperture and lift himself until his eyes were above the garret floor. But it was pitch dark. He could not even see the ladder, much less the boys under the bear skins.

The priest dropped to the floor and seated himself upon a box, dropping his face into his hands. There he sat, motionless, for hours. The boys buried their heads in the skins and went to sleep.

They were awakened by the sound of voices. A candle flared below. Hill had entered. He and the priest were alone.

"They were here, sir, that's true enough. I've just taken them to the Sennor Carriller's and pointed them fur home. They seemed in a hurry to vamos these parts."

The priest groaned and struck his fist on the table. "Then they are leagues away by this."

"They be, for a fact. Their horses was fresh and they was powerful keen. They was just sweaten' to git home."

"And Rafael Carillo? Did he go with them?"

"He didn't. He allowed to, but his father warnt agreeable. In fact he was--savin' your grace--cussed disagreeable. He corralled us as we was corrallen the horses; and although he was mighty mad at such French leave, he said, speakin' of the other two kids, that they could take the two horses and git, and the sooner the better, and if they never come lookin' for adventures in these parts agin the better he'd be pleased."

The priest did not appear to doubt him. He was looking through the doorway. Roldan could not see his face, but he saw the stare of wonder on Hill's.

"Very well," said the priest, after a moment, and his voice was hardly audible. "I shall return now. Can you come down to the Mission to- morrow--no, the day after. I have a secret to confide to you, and it will not be to your disadvantage to know it. I had no intention of telling any one, but I need help, and now more than ever. There is no time to be lost. Can you come early?"

"I'll be there between dawn and ten o'clock."

"That will do. Good night." And the priest went out.

No one spoke until the sound came up to them of a horse fording the creek. Then Hill said cautiously,--

"Hi, there, young uns."

"In the name of Mary let us come down, Don Jim," hissed Roldan, through the crack.

"Well, I guess you kin. He's climbin' the hill, and I don't see as there's anything to bring him back. I hope the fleas ain't et ye alive."

The boys lowered the ladder as rapidly as their stiff fingers would permit, and a moment later stood on the floor of the room, shaking themselves vigorously.

"Where's Rafael?" demanded Roldan.

"Tucked in his little warm bed with a warmer hide, I guess. The old man caught us in the very act of horse stealin'. Holy smoke, but he did cuss. I ain't got no pride in Yankee cussin' left."

"What did Rafael tell him?" interrupted Roldan, eagerly.

"He told him as how he had made up his mind to go home with you for a little paseo--"

"Did he say nothing about the priest?"

"Nothin'. Never opened his head about the priest--"

"When I'm governor I'll reward him," said Roldan, warmly.

"When you're President of the United States you might make him Secretary of State--"

"But the horses? the horses?"

"They're tethered just over the mountain. I suspicioned the priest might be here, seein' as you were expectin' him, more or less."

"Did Don Tiburcio say about me--us--what you told the priest?"

"He did, and more of it. He was as mad as a bear with a sore head. You see, he hadn't had no peace of mind for some hours, and as for the old lady I believe she's been havin' high strikes regular since breakfast. Now, I'm hospitable, but my advice to you is to git. Like as not the priest'll see old Carriller to-morrow, and then the cat'll come out. I kin git outen it all right enough--I'll say as how the old man didn't see you, that you were restin' on the other side of the wall. Like as not he'll believe me, but he thinks you're pointed fur home, and if he wants you badly, he'll follow. You'd better go South fur a month or so and go home by barque. I'll fetch the horses down now and put them in my shed. That'll rest 'em a bit and keep 'em warm, and then you kin start the minute it's daylight."

"You have been a friend to us in trouble, Don Jim, and I shall never forget it."

"Don't mention it, Rolly, don't mention it. I kinder like excitement, when I ain't the hero, so ter speak. There's only one thing I've got to ask in return: Have you got a grudge agin the priest?"

"I have."

"Be you meditatin' revenge?"

"A Spaniard never forgives an insult."

"Oh, . . . have you got it in yer power to injure Padre Osuna in the sight o' men?"

"I have, and worse--for him."

"Don't do it, young man," said Hill, solemnly. "Don't do it. It ain't worth shucks to ruin a man fur personal spite. You'll find that out the minute you've done it. You'll feel small and mean; and if you want to be a great man--and I kin see you're ambitious--that ain't the way to go to work. Padre Osuna has his faults, but he's a big man; there ain't none bigger in the Californies; and he ain't the man to ruin, without thinkin' a lot about it aforehand."

"He insulted me horribly," said Roldan, shutting his teeth. "I will never respect myself until I wipe out the memory of that moment."

"He lost his temper, I suspicion, and whacked ye, like as not. Well, I'll admit that is hard on a don of your size. But, take my word for it, you'll feel a sight better if you mount the high horse and forgive him, treat him with silent contempt. Nothin' makes you feel as good as that. Tried it myself."

"I must think about it, Don Jim."

"Well, do. And maybe you'll remember that I asked ye as a favour to let the priest off this time. He's been the best friend I ever had, and he's been the friend of many, young 'un."

Roldan stepped forward impulsively and grasped Hill's hand. "I will never speak," he said. "And you can say to Rafael that I wish him never to speak, either. Only, in return, Don Jim, I insist that you do not tell him that I promised you this. He shall not think that I fear him."

"Oh, I ain't goin' to have no conversation with him on the subject. Don't you worry about that. Now, I'll go after the mustangs. You lie down, and when I come back I'll cook that there rabbit for yer. You kin git dinner at the Ortegas', but don't stay there too long, for the priest's mighty sharp."